Local Bands Remember Infamous Joe Campos Torres Case

Photo courtesy of Fuska
Richard Molina, center, and members of Fuska
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This Saturday night, a half-dozen bands, their fans and friends will gather at Taqueria La Macro on North Main for a remembrance of one of Houston's most significant historical moments of the last 50 years. The event is simply billed as "Remembering Joe Campos Torres."

This week in 1977, Torres, a Vietnam veteran, was murdered by members of the Houston Police Department. His death and the laughable sentences for the convicted cops -- a year's probation and a $1 fine for each of the principal officers involved -- prompted the infamous Moody Park rebellion a year later.

It also prompted changes in the way HPD conducted its business, as the department's internal-affairs division grew from these events. It bred a new generation of eagle-eyed activists, many from the city's emerging Chicano population.

Those positive results from something so horrific should be noticed, so the Jose Campos Torres Action Group formed to raise funds for a marker to recall these significant events. Saturday's show is part of the fundraising effort.

Fuska, Gods of Death Screw, Gutterrats, Idiginis, Loc D and Angel Campos are all slated to perform, beginning at 6 p.m. For some of these musicians, the event isn't just a fundraiser. As relatives of Torres, thier interest is much more personal.

"Joe Campos Torres is my uncle, my mom's brother," says Fuska keyboardist Richard Molina, a central figure of the action group who notes Angel Campos and Loc D are also related to Torres. "This event will always have a lasting impact on my family. Before anything, this was their family. Their blood. My Uncle Joe was like a father figure to the rest of the family and when that happened to him in the brutal way that it did, it changed everything.

"It ruined a lot, especially for my grandmother and my Uncle Ray," he adds. "To this day my grandmother still can't bring herself to talk about that event."

Molina and many of the musicians taking part in Saturday's show weren't even born when Torres was beaten by a half-dozen officers at a secluded area which became known as "The Hole," before being thrown into Buffalo Bayou to drown; I was just a kid then myself. To this day, I vividly recall my own dad's furor and anxiety, hearing about the killing and the verdicts. It was discomforting to us all to see something like that happen to someone so much like us, and all at the hands of those we'd entrusted to protect us.

Those might be negative connotations, but Molina thinks it's time to embrace the plusses that sprung from that time.

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"As far as I can remember, the only time my uncle's name and story get brought up, it's to compare it to some other case of police brutality in Houston," he says. "Like with the more recent Chad Holley case -- which isn't really honoring anything. A lot of stuff changed after my uncle's case within the city and the police department. I feel that it's time to shine the positive light on the situation that it deserves. A historical marker at Moody Park would be a good place to start."

I asked Molina if the events somehow found their way into his musical pursuits, since he's part of a ska-punk act that embraces its Latino roots.

"This event did have a significant role in my distrust in authority from crooked, mean-spirited police to overly aggressive teachers in middle and high school," he admits. "Of course being into metal and punk rock during those times did turn all that up a notch.

"Growing up, my mom and my Aunt Sandra had always remained pretty active when it came to protesting against police brutality," he adds. "We were always there with them at all the protests and marches and heard all the stories. As I got older and learned more about what actually happened, how he died and how they found him, it stuck with me. My mom was just a kid when that happened and knowing that her and my family had to go through that at the hands of the Houston Police Department really bothered me and still does to this day."

As he and his friends and family have worked to fund a historical marker, Molina's learned those events still resonate today with many Houstonians from all backgrounds. Many are contributing their time and talents as members of the action group.

"Some of the members were there at Moody Park during the riots and some members have just heard about it and feel the injustice for themselves, Molina says.

"The whole point of this event and future events is to start raising awareness and to let the people of Houston know that Jose Campos Torres was a real person with a family that loved him dearly. He was a member of this community that grew up and joined U.S. Army to serve his country. He was back on leave when this happened to him," he concludes.

"The May 10 show is more of a loud celebration. The bands that are playing are loud, fast and at times a bit angry. We want my uncle to hear us party for him whereever he may be."


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